Patna: The newly formed government in Bihar under Chief Minister Nitish Kumar seems to be in an inertia as even after three weeks of taking oath, the cabinet is yet to hold its first meeting.
Nitish is also yet to expand his cabinet, where he has been demanding a 50:50 share of JD(U) and BJP ministers.
While the opposition said Nitish is now scared of his ally BJP, the JD(U) said there is no constitutional obligation that cabinet meetings should be held on a weekly basis. But JD(U) sources told ThePrint that not holding cabinet meetings even after so long “indicates the diluted powers of Nitish”.
Political experts, meanwhile, said that Nitish is yet to recover from the drubbing he and his party suffered in the assembly elections.
Leader of the Congress in the assembly Ajit Sharma said: “We expected that the cabinet expansion would take place within a week of his swearing-in. But it has not happened.
“Each ministry is large and requires independent ministers. By giving 4 to 5 departments to each minister, the message is that only some routine work is being done. Nitish ji should realise that he has a lot to do in sectors like education, health, law and order, employment and industry. I request him to expand his cabinet, and hold regular meetings, review meetings for the sake of governance,” he added.
RJD leader Shivanand Tiwari said: “More than lack of confidence, it appears that Nitish fears BJP ministers. He fears that his proposals would be rejected by a majority of ministers in the cabinet.”
Why cabinet expansion is not taking place
Bihar with 243 MLAs can have a cabinet strength of 37 ministers, including the CM. Presently, there are only 14 ministers, including the CM.
BJP sources said the central leadership is yet to finalise the list of BJP ministers to be inducted in the Bihar cabinet.
“JD(U) is still insisting on a 50:50 split in the cabinet and the issue is yet to be resolved. The issue of the 12 seats to be nominated by the Governor in the state legislative council has also not resolved,” a senior BJP leader said.
The leader added that Bihar seems to have been “out of focus” for the central BJP leadership after the elections.
JD(U) leaders, however, said not holding cabinet meetings even after so long “indicates the diluted powers of Nitish that he cannot take a decision without the approval of BJP leadership”.
“In 2019, when he did not get the desired representation of JD(U) at the Centre, Nitish unilaterally expanded his cabinet (without consulting the BJP),” said a JD(U) MLA.
Absence of Sushil Modi costing Nitish
JD(U) leaders also said the absence of former Bihar deputy CM Sushil Modi from the state government is having an impact on the cabinet expansion and the delay in holding cabinet meetings.
The above-quoted JD(U) MLA said Modi ensured that BJP ministers agree to all the proposals forwarded by the CM.
“His successor Tarkishore Prasad does not enjoy the following Modi had over BJP ministers. He also coordinated between the Centre and the state government over many decisions and held review meetings of various departments to get Nitish’s decisions implemented,” he added.
But this mechanism is gone now. With Modi now a Rajya Sabha MP, the JD(U) hopes, even more than the BJP, that he is made a Union minister.
“Modi may be able to fill the vacuum caused by the death of Arun Jaitley, who used to get Nitish’s work done. Nitish ji does not enjoy the same level of proximity, he did with Jaitley, with any other BJP leader,” said the MLA, adding that if the former finance minister would have been alive, then the cabinet expansion hurdle wouldn’t have come up.
Work being done on previous cabinet decisions: JD(U)
JD(U) national general secretary and spokesperson Nihora Prasad Yadav, however, said there is no constitutional obligation to hold cabinet meetings weekly.
“Cabinet meetings are held for approval of government proposals. There are a lot of approved proposals from the previous cabinet meetings and work is being done on them. Whenever a need arises, there will be cabinet meetings,” he said.
Asked about cabinet expansion, Yadav said it will be done after discussions between BJP and JD(U) leaders.
Patna University professor N.K. Choudhary, however, said it appears that Nitish lacks the confidence to make decisions on his own.
“Cabinet meetings are held on a weekly basis, where policy decisions are taken. But cabinet meetings not being held shows that Nitish Kumar is yet to recover from the drubbing he and his party suffered in the assembly polls. Earlier, the government used to be Nitish-centric. Now it appears that Nitish lacks confidence to make decisions. It is unfortunate for the state.”
The chief minister, meanwhile, is also under fire for increasing crime in the state. On Wednesday, a daring daylight dacoity of Rs 7 crore-worth jewellery from a shop in Darbhanga prompted Nitish to hold a review meeting. The incident took place barely 250 metres away from the nearest police station.
The chief minister held the high-level meeting with police officials and took stock of the deteriorating law order situation that didn’t just invite attack from the opposition, but also prompted ally BJP to express concern.
“Policing in Bihar appears to have collapsed. The confidence of criminals is high,” said Darbhanga BJP MLA Sanjay Sarogi.
At the meeting, Nitish ordered action against police officers in areas where crime has increased and also asked for more patrolling.
“The decision to hold a review meeting came when he was facing an all-out criticism,” said a BJP MLA, who didn’t want to be named.